This is one of my favorite columns ever. The backstory is that I was shopping around for religions and around the same time the newspaper was preparing a package of stories about people like me who drifted from one religion to another. I wrote up some thoughts and reflections. This is how it ran
By SCOTT BUTKI
I'm homeless. Spiritually, that is.
Some shop for the perfect outfit. Me, I shop for the right church.
Shopping for a church is a bit like dating - you tell yourself that you will know when you have found the one you want to spend your life with.
But I am a picky shopper and maybe I am expecting too much, which could be why I am churchless.
On my optimistic days I think that when I find the right church I will know it immediately, hearing some sign like church bells, and feel like I truly belong there.
On my pessimistic days I wonder if I'm churchless because I am expecting too much, that I need to just trust my instincts and have faith not only in God but also that the church is the best one for me.
Then I think that I am overthinking this and should just focus on doing good deeds and loving thy neighbor and soon I get wrapped up in work and another week has gone by.
Going to a new church is a bit like going on a blind date: You know a few details ahead of time, but you're nervous because you dont know what to expect or how you will be accepted.
But just as you cant go out on a blind date every week - unless you have nerves of steel - so must you take breaks before trying a new church.
But I feel like I am missing out on something special that congregation members share. In times of trouble people are advised to seek comfort from their house of worship. Thats hard when you're between houses.
I also envy the certainty some churchgoers have that their faith or belief system is correct.
Im in a profession that breeds skepticism and cynicism, be it due to an apathetic public, the misdeeds of public officials, having a police scanner five feet from my computer proclaiming the latest crime news and other causes.
And it's hard to avoid having the cynicism and skepticism affect the church shopping and not make it harder to take a
leap of faith.
Sometimes the shopper is acting under some pressure, as was the case when I was working for a newspaper in Arkansas.
When I first met a county sheriff in Arkansas he walked me through the detention area and then asked: "Scott, have you found a home?"
"Well, yes," I told him, proudly, "I have found a nice apartment south of town."
The big burly gun-toting man shook his head.
"No, have you found a HOME?" he asked.
I must have still looked confused because he said, "You know, a church."
No, I said. In a paranoid moment I wondered if I had to promise to attend his church in order to get released. I forget what I said but it worked and he never spoke of it again.
After moving to Maryland I went to one church and instead of the white round communion wafers I was accustomed to seeing, while growing up Catholic, they had orange goldfish.
I try to roll with the punches so I imagined the cracker was the body of Christ and ate it.
The next day, a reporter was snacking at her desk. I followed the crunching sound to its source and realized the reporter was eating a bowl filled with parts of the body of christ, er, I mean, goldfish crackers.
The weird symbolism and metaphors was too much for me.
As a newcomer to a church, I hope people will be friendly, helpful and encouraging.
The reception Ive received at area churches has varied.
At one place a church minister asked new members to raise their hands during the service. I did so and was handed a bottle of honey. "Heavenly honey," the label read, and it was made locally.
At other places, though, they act annoyed that they have to deal with someone new, as if they do not have to address newcomers. We are talking people unfit to work as greeters at Wal-Mart.
And still I keep shopping, not for the perfect bargain but for that place where I feel like I truly wanted, seeking a place where I feel I belong.
And while the search is sometimes frustrating, it helps to know Im not the only one between churches.
The irony is there was just one religion, one church, that I had not been to: The Unitarian Universalist Church of Frederick. If you look at the words you can guess why they go by UUCF and not say, well, you can figure it out.
Anyway the day the column was published - after months of tinkering with it - was the first day I went to that church and as soon as I arrived I felt like I was finally home.
I've been going there for more than two years now and have been heavily involved with religious education, starrted and ran a movie discussion group, among other activities.
So that was quite a coincidence - that I found my home on the day the column ran about how I couldn't find, well, a home.
But that wasn't the part that blew my mind...